Current AffairsIndia

“You may be trillion-dollar company but people value their privacy:” Supreme Court

Indian citizens have grave apprehensions regarding the privacy concerns posed by the new privacy policy introduced by messaging app, WhatsApp, the Supreme Court said on Monday seeking the response of the Central government, Facebook and WhatsApp in a plea challenging the privacy policy.


A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJ), SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that while the tech giant may be a company with deep coffers, people value their privacy more than money.

The arguments made by Senior Counsel Shyam Divan regarding the privacy concerns accompanying the new policy coupled with the fact that there is no data protection law in India, found favour with the Bench.

“We are impressed by Mr. Divan’s argument that it was proposed before us that a data protection law would be brought into force. Now under this policy you will share data of Indians. You may be two or three trillion companies, but people value their privacy more than money,” CJI Bobde said.

People have grave apprehension about the sharing of data, he added.

Divan, representing the applicants, submitted that the new privacy policy undermines privacy of Indian users compared to European users.

Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, representing WhatsApp, vehemently denied that the data of users would be compromised by the new policy.

“This 2021 policy is applicable everywhere apart from Europe as it has a law. If India has a law, we will follow the same,” Sibal said.

“Then put that on oath,” the Bench responded.

“We can swear on affidavit that we neither store or share personal data. All this is a red herring,” said Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi.

The Court was hearing an application seeking directions to be issued to WhatsApp not to lower privacy standards for Indian Users, and to apply the same privacy policy and terms of use to Indian users as is being applied in the European Region.

The petitioners contended that the way the new privacy policy of WhatsApp was framed and the terms of the new policy result in grave affront to the fundamental right of privacy of crores of Indian citizens using WhatsApp on a daily basis.

“There is no clarity on when the Data Protection legislation will be passed and brought into effect in India. In order to protect the rights of crores of citizens of India, till an appropriate regulatory regime is brought into existence by operation of law, it is imperative that this Hon’ble Court prohibits the operation of the new Privacy Policy sought to be made mandatory by WhatsApp,” the application stated.

The application by the by two college students – Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi was filed in their pending case before the Constitution bench where WhatsApp’s 2016 user policy was challenged.

Singh and Sareen had initially approached Delhi High Court challenging the 2016 privacy policy. The Delhi High Court had on September 23, 2016 granted partial relief stating that the data of those WhatsApp Users who delete WhatsApp before the 2016 policy came into effect – cannot be used for any purposes as laid down in the 2016 privacy policy.

The said decision then came to be challenged before Supreme Court since the High Court granted only partial relief.

The Supreme Court, in April 2017, referred the matter to a Constitution Bench.

Later when the Constitution Bench took up the case, it was kept pending after the Court was informed that Justice BN Srikrishna led committee was preparing a Data Protection Bill.

Subsequently, WhatsApp updated its user policy on January 4, 2021, in view of which this fresh affidavit was filed by the petitioners before the Supreme Court on January 5, 2021.

After WhatsApp placed on record its latest privacy policy, the petitioners also filed an application seeking urgent directions from the Court to stay the operation of the new privacy policy.

As per the new privacy policy, WhatsApp shares user information globally. Such sharing happens internally within the Facebook Companies and externally with partners and service providers, and with those with users communicate around the world, in accordance with its updated privacy policy.

During the hearing today, Shyam Divan said that there is a great number of metadata which is shared and there is a privacy concern. He also highlighted the Centre’s earlier stand that a data protection law would be brought in.

“We pray that privacy standards are not lowered for Indian users and that they be barred from sharing data with facebook,” Divan said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal pointed out that similar matter is already being heard by the Delhi High Court while the challenge to the earlier policy of WhatsApp is pending before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

“We will see if we should get the Delhi High Court case transferred here (Supreme Court) or to send these there. But we will issue notice and (you) file replies. We may have to see if the matter is pending before us in a constitution bench,” the Court said.

The case will be heard next after four weeks.


Via Bar & Bench
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